To swing by spots previously developed by NYC dive bar Ray’s all-star team might make one wonder how they ended up partnering on this particular watering hole. Much attention has gone to the involvement of actor Justin Theroux, but the others involved (including Jon Neidich, Taavo Somer, and Carlos Quirarte) have developed some of the most exciting and design-forward hospitality ventures in the city. From The Happiest Hour to The Smile, Acme and Freemans, Lemons at The Wythe Hotel and even The Rusty Knot, their combined impact on nightlife and dining has been markedly substantial. And yet Ray’s (177 Chrystie Street) is a destination for a Miller High Life and some whiskey.
Jon Neidich, the chief executive at Golden Age Hospitality, longed for the nightlife scene of his early adult life in the East Village. Remembering their affection for dives, Neidich and his collaborators drew out attributes from favorite former hangouts. Ray’s began to take shape: a homage to ease, an update to a beloved form of socializing.
“The dive serves the essential role as the neighborhood watering hole,” Neidich says, “Where someone’s a local, where bartender and patron have often developed a relationship. You walk up to the bar, you sink back drinks quickly, you put your favorite song on the jukebox, you just have a good time.”
NYC has changed, though. And, specifically, so has the LES neighborhood where Ray’s is located. “I’ve actually had my eye on this corner for about seven years,” Neidich continues, “From back when I lived on Grand and Essex Street. When Taavo and Carlos tapped us to be involved, it was perfect timing.” The location previous held the fashionable Le Turtle, an acclaimed vision of Quirarte and Somer. Neidich and crew preserved a nook of Le Turtle, but the rest of the venue has become wood-paneled and low-key.
Ray’s isn’t a dirty dive. In fact, it’s more akin to what writer Noah Rothbaum coined in 2016, an “upscale dive.” Arguably, this is the most important category of bars in NYC today—featuring a quality beverage program (here directed by Jim Kearns), welcoming decor and an open, easy atmosphere. As Neidich says, “I think we endeavored to create our version of a dive bar, which meant we would have a clean, well-thought-out space, good product, and great bartenders.” And this is what is delivered.
Neidich says visitors can expect good vibes every night and, “that feeling of comfort.” He wants Ray’s to be a place where people feel an affiliation, “somewhere you could go anytime on any day if you needed to and chances are you see someone you know.” Ray’s is definitely a neighborhood bar, belonging to the LES and its inhabitants by proximity, but anyone who walks in easily realizes it can be theirs too.
Images courtesy of Kirsten Francis